RANT: When Geekery Goes Mainstream, Do We Lose?

Image by Denny’s. No, you’re not seeing things.

By Natania Barron
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

There are hobbits at Denny’s. I’m supposed to be excited about this. I’m supposed to be frothing at the mouth, declaring victory for second breakfast and showing up in my own home-made hobbit feet, singing The Road Goes Ever On and On and snapping pictures on my iPhone every step of the way. Preferably with a cool, old-timey Instagram filter. This is, after all, essentially my defining fandom. This is what got me started down this path strewn with meeples and maps and swords and dice. According to market research, I’m the demographic.

I should be thrilled.

But I’m not.

Am I failing at fandom? Or it it something else?

Let me back up a bit. My first atomic-level obsession was the Ninja Turtles. My first fandom was Star Wars. The difference is that with TMNT, I spent the majority of my time holed up with just my sister quoting the entire films verbatim. We were totally insular in our obsession. In high school, I found other kids who loved Star Wars just as much as I did, and I suppose that’s when I officially transitioned to fandom. We’d quote the lines to each other, readied ourselves for the new (and ultimately childhood-crushing) prequel, had lightsaber fights in the halls, bought the copious Taco Bell tie-ins (man, but did I visit Taco Bell a ton the year they had those pogs) and all skipped school for The Phantom Menace senior year. Even though the movies were huge, they were somehow precious. It wasn’t that often your favorite characters showed up at Taco Bell, after all.

Then came The Lord of the Rings which, now that I think of it, combined both obsession and fandom. Maybe that’s why it was so overwhelmingly powerfull. It was the rumor of the Peter Jackson movies that got me on my first MUSH, Elendor (where I met my husband) and ultimately connected me with a far larger network of geeks — those that liked They Might Be Giants, dug literature, watched Samurai Jack. I found my tribe. So all this hobbit breakfast business is pretty apparent on my radar, if you get my drift.

And I frigging hate this idea. (That strangled cry you heard a few days ago was when I read the words “Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies” and wanted to defenestrate my phone to punish it for showing the story to me.) I want to find whoever made this decision and just start, I dunno, throwing stale seedcakes at their heads. Real seedcakes, presumably made at home without horrid, fast food equivalent ingredients. I mean, I could deal with the light-up goblets at Burger King. They were kitschy and at least relatively thematic. And like with Taco Bell before them, this was a relatively unusual celebration. Plus I was in college, and it was an awesome uh, beverage vessel. But I wasn’t expected to actually eat their food.

That’s the thing with this food chain celebrating second breakfast. They want me to eat their food!

I’ll be honest. I don’t really like Big Bang Theory and I haven’t managed to get into Doctor Who. In all these cases I feel conflicted–it’s wonderful that finally, geeks are actually a huge factor in what’s being published and brought to the big screen… but I’m also aware that I’m a demographic. I can see through their guises. I’m making someone good advertising revenue! (And so are you.)

But this Denny’s second breakfast stuff… this is something else altogether. It’s one thing to feel like I might not connect with as many fandoms as I used to, and to feel like my preferences are bleeding into the mainstream and being wary of that. In some ways I guess it’s nice that we don’t have to work so hard in the land of obscurity. But in the end, I feel less thrilled and more pandered to, in no way more than this recent second-breakfastmagaddeon. I feel like my fandom has officially been mined. Our very own “Scouring of the Shire” as it were. (And that’s not where it ends. Look at Wreck-It Ralph. When I saw the preview for this during Brave, I turned to my husband and said: “Wow, that looks cool except… but I feel like the exploited demographic. Hello, 80s kids having kids! You are our target marketing demographic, and we’re capitalizing off your ginormous nostalgia factor!” Yes. The world has been rendered in 8-bit, and I’m supposed to be Ms. Pac-Man, gobbling it up.)

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this is fandom jumping the shark. The geeky and the mainstream are no longer on separate paths. We don’t have to go digging for the obscure, like Mikey and his map to One-Eyed Willy in The Goonies. Comics, hobbits, video games, these things that used to be so rare and personal and geek elite, are everywhere. And I wish I could say it was just this hobbit nonsense. The truth is, it’s been happening for a while. The online world is dominated by fan things, with every tie-in imaginable, and people champing at the bit to get their favorite quote on a t-shirt/mug/bumper sticker/laptop bag/iPhone case/app.

It’s the stuff. It’s everywhere. And it’s one thing to do marketing for super heroes and movies. It’s another to break the core of what hobbits actually stood for which, I assure you, had nothing to do with stuffing oneself with cutely named, and what I assume to be nutritionally void food items, in strip malls.

Maybe you’re not a curmudgeon like me. All I’m saying is that, fandom failure or not, it’s our responsibility as geeks to demand more than stuff and fluff. Sometimes our tendencies to gripe about things can be annoying, but it’s essential; we need it now more than ever (see the most recent attempt and failure to cash in, er, “re-imagine” the Ninja Turtles) as we’re increasingly appropriated. We need to step back from all the stuff that’s piling up around us, take a deep breath, and consider what it all means.

So we’ve proved that yes, we can change the world. But we can’t let the world change us, either. We’ve got to keep getting bigger, faster, stronger, smarter… We can’t settle. It’s more than knowing the right quotes and wearing the right clothes or eating the food they want us to eat. If that’s all it becomes, it’s nothing better than any trend or club. Fandom is about community, it’s about storytelling, it’s about becoming something more than the dose of reality we’ve all been served. And that, most certainly, can’t be found in a box.

Or on a platter at Denny’s.

Now, confusticate and be bother the rest. I’m going to go get some tea and some fresh air.

“But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good tilled earth. For all Hobbits share a love of things that grow.” — Bilbo, from Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring

51 Responses to RANT: When Geekery Goes Mainstream, Do We Lose?

  1. I just hate Denny's. I wouldn't eat there if bare chested elves served my Ring Burger and hand fed me my french fries….. well maybe then, but only if a generous amount of the Gaffer's home brew were involved.

  2. What you're saying is it's no longer geek chic, it's geek sheep?

    It's all around you now, there are more ''Geek'' websites now than porn. (OK maybe not, but it's getting there)
    It's no longer about the movie/comic/game it's about the marketing and all the related crap that's being pushed upon you.
    All the bitching and moaning about Georges Lucas raping childhood memories to make more cash as a fan/geek/nerd translated years later into wanting/buying Adidas Star Wars shoes and countless more junk…

    I won't stop quoting my favorite movie & being a fan. I just stopped spending when I realized I could've bought a car instead (not a cheap one too). Addicts is what we are turned into and we're about to overdose.

  3. This cracks me up. Oh no, my obscure stuff is getting too mainstream! Like what you like, and don't worry about how many or how few other people like it.

    • I think the thing every nerd wants is to be accepted for liking what he likes, without that thing becoming something totally different in order to be accepted by the mainstream. For a very nerdy example look at Abram's Star Trek. There is no way you can say that that film bares any resemblance to the best Star Trek episodes at their nerdy, cheesy best, because oft-times those shows tried to say something important within all the cheap sets and cheesy aliens. All Abram's film was trying to do was entertain you and make you empty your wallet briefly during the summer — just like any other blockbuster. That picture was made by people who just didn't get it. Nothing ironic about that unless it's the fact that to be cool, you really have to try to be like everybody else.

  4. I do understand the rant and I guess one of the problems about geeky things and less popular things in general becoming more mainstream and popular is that, as in Denny's case, there will be cash ins and cheap knock offs which can cheapen the fandoms etc. You see it in movies, games, music and all the rest. But on the flip side of the coin, it can introduce a whole new generation of people to them as well. And if they really get into things and enjoy them, then they will surely dig a bit deeper through all the commercial cash in crap to get to the good stuff. Although there can be a heck of a lot of crap to dig through!

  5. Commercialization, exploitation and marketing towards specific groups will always be there. The reason why you get upset might be that you are realizing that "This isn't something cool made for me!" but rather "This is something people in marketing use to target me and my feelings!". Welcome to the capitalized world! Huzzah! I recommend you watch the documentary "The Corporation" from 2003. Explains it better than I do.

  6. Watching a major box office film doesn't make you a geek even if that film is about elves and wizards.

    What makes you a geek is that you've read The Silmarillion.

      • The Silmarillion and a Brief History of Time are two books that actually make me question my faith. I'm good for the first few chapters and then it all becomes much too difficult to process. Maybe I'm not the geek I thought I was.

        • Join the club, I tried to read the Silmarillion before reading LoTR because I thought it would kinda' set me up for what was to come. That book so put me off Tolkien that I didn't finally read LoTR for about two decades. Of course I loved it when I finally did read it, but Good God, I wasn't even close to the level of fanboy it would take to plough through the Silmarillion. Kudo's to Jackson if he can stir up enough excitement for me to tackle that again.

  7. So now, let us get to the heart of this phenomenon.

    Fan <> Geek

    Playing a game, liking a movie, or owning a comic book makes one a fan. Not a geek.
    Being a real geek takes a bit of effort. You learn to code, or solder, or solve equations, or sew, or otherwise make stuff or devote your spare time to mastering something difficult.

    Fandom is easily exploited by commercial culture.

    Geekdom is not.

  8. I think someone is having a whine party…

    Who cares if it's mainstream? This is an opportunity for new people to join your fandom and become just as excited and in love with it as you are! You shouldn't snub your nose at someone just because they saw the film before reading the books or because they discovered a love of all things hobbit because of a marketing ploy by a breakfast restaurant chain… I can't stand geek elitism. What does it matter when or why you came to love a thing?

    • Blogger is NOT snubbing new members of the fandom, blogger is finally discovering what it's like to have advertising and commercialism pander to said fandom. Huge difference.

  9. I'm totally feeling this one, but I felt this way a long time ago with Return of the Jedi came out, and I noticed something didn't feel right. In the back of my mind the thought occurred to me that, ". . . I wonder if this would have been radically different ( meaning as cool as the first two) if it hadn't become as popular as it became?" There is no doubt that trying to reach the maximum mainstream potential is going to water stuff down, especially if the original thing was intended for a niche market which is rather weird when you think about it, but that's just the way it is.

  10. Wilbur said what I was thinking. This web site has always struck me as a symptom of geekery's mainstreaming. Still, to respond to your rant, way I see it is the sci fi, fantasy, and comic book trend will blow over and out of the mainstream eventually and leave us with the same small core of geeks that have been into them the whole time. It's telling to me that yes, though comic book and fantasy movies are these colossal blockbusters, sales of comic books (and sci fi and fantasy novels) have only received comparatively minor bumps in sales from them. After comic book movies have subsided, about the same number of comic book fans will still be buying the monthlies.

  11. The irony of this rant is that your intro to geekdom was the TMNT “movies”.

    FYI- TMNT originally started out as a low budget, b&w comic. It was a blatant parody of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run (issues 168-190). Instead of the mentor “Stick”, TMNT used “Splinter”. Instead of the ninja group “the Hand”, TMNT used “the Foot”.

    The original TMNT comic was creative, funny and dark.

    Then, it was ruined. First the cartoon (“dude, you want some pizza? Yeah!!!), then the live action movies. Both of these were an abomination that turned one of the great stories of the 20th century (the Daredevil/Elektra/Bullseye saga) into a disgustingly mainstream unfunny lowest common denominator cash-cow franchise.

    I really think your love of TMNT “movies” is 100x more foul than “Radagast’s Red Velvet Pancake Puppies”.

    May the bastardized mainstream Ninja Turtles die a slow and painful death. Long live Frank Miller.

  12. I think someone posted it above: When Geek has gone porn, it's pretty much over at that point.

    I'm not going to be an elitist jerk and say that all the Johnny-Come-Lately's are worthy of the "geek" descriptor, they're just fans. Until you're shunned or outcasted for something you geek about, you don't get the title (or descriptor).

    • I have never, EVER been "shunned or outcasted" (though it is driving me crazy to not fix that grammar), but I definitely AM still a geek. Just because a kid doesn't have a bad experience doesn't mean she wasn't crazy obsessive.

  13. We aren't the first group to have its culture exploited by the mainstream. I can't say I mind that much. Its nice not to get weird looks when you talk about what you like to do, or have you parents assume that it somehow involves satan worship. (Yes, that seriously happened when I showed interest in DnD). I just kind of laugh at all the people who try and relate who would have never shown interest 10 years ago.

  14. this might be the stupidest article i've ever read. frankly, i don't get self proclaimed geeks that can't bust out assembly language code, or went to proms…

    • A geek: A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest. (One of the many definitions of "geek" that currently exist.

      Yes, there are coding geeks, but also music geeks, sci-fi geeks, and plenty of others…

      • Thank you for that defense. I’m a nuclear engineer who know works with Robots and attended Trek conventions in high school and worked an after-school job to buy over 3,000 comics by the time I was 18. Just because I happened to befriend / date a girl in High School and don’t know your specific niche, I’m less of a geek. Should I disqualify any “geek” that doesn’t can’t explain the temperature coefficient of reactivity for a pressurized reactor? Heck no!
        Which kind of is a segue into my comments on the article. I have plenty of geeky friends (who happen to be less nerdy than others, but still into Sci-Fi/Fantasy) that are super excited about this “second breakfast”. Not my cup of tea, but being a geek is about finding inclusion, not exclusion.
        Then on the pragmatic side of things, let them pitch products at us as if we were cattle. When they serve cool swag, we’ll buy it. When it isn’t as cool, let other subsidize our interests. If they make money on this, we have a better chance at future products. No one produces geek culture without an eye for profit. George Allen & Unwin wouldn’t have published LOTR if they hadn’t thought they could make more than a penny off of it.

    • So not knowing how to code in machine language doesn't make someone a geek? Why use that as your line? Why not someone who can't bust out artificial neural networks and some analytical geometry? Methinks you are being a bit myopic.

  15. Welcome to being Co-opted to turn a buck.

    Goths went through this in 1998, with places like hot topic, and all of a sudden being a watered down goth (aka emo) was cool. Sure, scorn was steal heaped on them by mainstream media. Scorn is still heaped on nerds, too. But the entire identity in and of itself was taken over, mass marketed and homogenised to the point that you could buy shit off the shelf to look the part. Some Manson and Slipknot CDs, their branded Tshirts, sneakers and absinthe, and all of a sudden you were one of the cool kids, where as the actual goths that had been lamenting the tragedy of their caucasian middle class lives were still very much left on the periphery… and the same is happening with real nerds.
    You identity has been taken and sold, leaving you with a slew of attractive people wearing your identity and saying how they were always secretly into it when they barely graze the surface, and still excluding you even after taking everything you once held dear.

  16. I found this website Google searching "sexy geeks" quite some time ago. Some times things take a while to get to my town (or at least, I don't hear of them from people, though I may have read it on the internet), so it felt like just me who would even think something like that and just me who found this cool little blog about this stuff. The whole "geek chic" thing was new to me. Then some time later I saw an article about just that on Yahoo….. Yahoo! I put my ear to the ground, it was coming. So now it's cool here and everywhere else, and everyone tries too hard to be "geeky", "nerdy", "weird", "random", etc. and it's annoying. Though I admit I'm guilty for sharing this with my friends. I just thought it was so cool though and so did they… and now everyone does. Yes I'm crying because my obscure thing became mainstream and I thought it was cool before everyone else. ): and because I have competition now D< from the "…slew of attractive people wearing [my] identity and saying how they were always secretly into it when they barely graze the surface, and still excluding [me] even after taking everything [I] once held dear."

  17. Misplaced “geek cred” analysis aside, I find the whole thing funny. As a proud Whovian who loves to share her love of all things geek with anyone willing to listen, I need to drop this tidbit: The Winter ad book for Express clothing is chock full of bowties. Chock full! Express is selling $40.00 bowties likes it’s nothing. Why? Beacause suddenly “bowties are cool.” To this I say: fantastic!

  18. I must say that it is amusing. I do not know why but all I can think when reading this is to think the issue is that geekdom is now cool and has lost its "exclusivity". Geek and Nerd titles were simply categories people fell into not a title one necessarily strove to achieve. This is of course largely in part to us being able to get VERY WELL paying jobs and keep them.

  19. I've been a geek, nerd, weirdo, what-have-you since the mid-sixties. It comes from hanging out with my mother who was a Nurse, at hospitals and clinics on weekends. I was reading and comprehending college level at 10. I read my mother's Nursing, and medical books, also I read the Doctors medical books at the hospitals, and clinics since I was usually in the Doctors quarters while there. My mother's boyfriend worked in the electronics field, eh always brought me bits and pieces of electronics, and taught me basic electronics, so I was always building and tinkering with that. I took apart, and reassembled everything I could get my hands on since I had an insatiable appetite to see how things worked. I was always repairing things. I modified, and improved things. I still, to this day, do these things. First, and foremost I'm a medical geek. I spent thirty years as a Registered Nurse, twenty five in the Operating Room. I excelled at what I did, and was very good with the high tech equipment, as well as being a very good RN (these aren't me just bragging, I have the evaluations, praise, etc. to back up my claims). Nowadays, everyone THINKS they're a geek. I've seen descriptions such as music geek, sports geek (which, to me, is the antithesis of geekdom) which involves mindlessly spouting stats, game & player lineups for the past fifty years, and playing fantasy football (yikes! how stupid can one get?), etc These people aren't geeks, and don't know what true geekdom is. Geek is something you are to the core, something you earn, NOT just something you SAY you are.

    • Yeah I'm going to have to reply to that. I really would say that people that can stats from fifty years ago, as well as game and player line-ups from that age are very much geeks. Just because your into sports, and you choose that as your area of interest, for example, all the baseball statisticians out there, shouldn't automatically make you not a geek. That's ridiculous, as the definition says above. A certain area of interest where you have a particular talent.There are not many people that can repeat that kind of stuff from that long ago.

  20. There, there. Take a deep breath and remember in 20 years this will be like the Star Wars Christmas Special that everyone thought was the epitome of geekxploitation and now through the lens of nostalgia, is treated much like your embarrassing grade school halloween photo of you in a Yoda costume that you try to forget and mumble "I was just a kid", can we change the subject?

  21. I just have one thing to say- NOBODY should like "Big Bang Theory"….those characters are extreme stereotypes…and the worst part is for a few seasons the only girl was a not-very-bright-but-hot blonde, which just perpetuated the idea that girls can't even be geeks. I know they have a geek girl on there now…probably because feminist geeks like me complained about it (although I don't know any feminists who would've watched that show for longer than two seconds)

    • *raises hand*

      I'm a geek. I'm a feminist. I love Big Bang Theory. Stereotypes? Yes. Entertaining? Hell, yes. Do things happen on the show that I want to rant and rave about? Sure. But I talk about it with my friends who also watch the show and we disseminate the myths and everything's okay after that.

  22. Damn. Why can’t people just be geeks/nerds/dipshits and shut the hell up about it? You’re whining about geeks becoming mainstream on a website called “Geeks are sexy” with supermodel in a logo. What the hell? Get over it all and stop labeling yourselves geek/nerd as it is suddenly something cool. Many people that say “I’m such a nerd/geek” often ridicule real geeks/nerds. Basically it was always that way – if someone was obsessed with coding/collecting/reading something etc. everyone would go “OMG loser nerd GET A LIFE!”. Now it’s becoming “mainstream”. The words mainstream and hipster are pissing me off by the way. It’s so overused, I feel nauseated when I see another shitty post containing these.

    Bottom line: Stop this shit. Real nerd/geek doesn’t have to show off, go around shouting “HEY EVERYONE I’M NERD I’M GEEK!”. You’re missing the point.

    PS. I’m not a geek or nerd or hipster or whatever the hell you’d call it. I’m just a guy tired of bullshit I see on the Internet almost daily.

  23. I read this post, then looked at the next couple entries in the GrS blog. I came across Death Star chocolate cherry cordials followed by Warm Kitty Soft Kitty slippers and that's when the irony kicked in.

    • Well, there are plenty of people writing on this site, but the thing is, most of the products we post here are created by geeks, not corporations.

      • I am so sorry, but I just have to interject here. Just because they're made by GEEKS looking to make a buck rather than Corporations (probably run by or hiring geeks) looking to make a buck, that magically makes it okay? I am fond of shopping local, small businesses, but seriously, cherry cordials and Soft Kitty slippers are ripping off someone else's concept and then selling it on the internet…

        Can you please explain the logic of that to me, because I guess I'm missing something.

  24. To me, geek will always define the extraordinary simpleton or crazed individual who bites the heads off of chickens at a circus sideshow. The problem being that slang is a misuse of a term, and in it's own right can mean anything to anyone who speaks it. There can be no correct use of slang in any form. I personally prefer to stick with Nerd as that was the first words for me that defined an individual who's primary interests deviated from those that were more socially popular. I want to say that either term is far overused today. Regardless, this is in a human language. Who am I to dictate how humans use it? I'm just some dude who likes Star Trek and manga.

    In my opinion, this Denny's promo is nothing new. We will always end up with silly gimmick promos like this for as long as a chain company stands to gain profit from a major movie production. Such is the way of advertising. Michael Bay is ruining far more of my nerdy childhood memories by persistently creating awful films based on cartoons that I liked when I was 5 years old.

  25. But if you happen to like something that becomes mainstream who cares? Just think, this fad will be out of fashion soon, so quick! Stock up on Primark's (I live in the UK) TNMT and Pac-Man t-shirts whilst they are cheap! Us real geeks will survive past this fashion bollocks.

  26. Just enjoy what you enjoy and get over yourself. I really can't see the difference between second breakfast at Denny's and plastic toys at Taco Bell. Do you think Taco Bell produced the toys because only you and your friends were going to buy them? No thousands did, and Taco Bell made money. So too does Denny's. People (call them what you will) like to get offended when "their" fandom becomes popular. Is it because they can't also brag about being outcasts or consider themselves victims of a dominant culture that just doesn't (or can't, because it's too stupid) understand them? I have loved many franchises, books, movies, etc. that all have fandoms and I was never remotely near to being cool at school, yet getting my panties in a twist over if and how other people enjoy or don't enjoy them just doesn't make any sense.

  27. While I had been under the impression that the last two years had turned me into a curmudgeon, perhaps my strong optimistic spirit is not dead after all. I laughed with glee when I saw the advertisement. I was amused and thought it would be fun to go! I still haven't gone but I fully intend to go.

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